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Wills Register: Choosing a Path

November 17, 2010

Virtually every college student eventually comes to a fork in the road and must make a decision on which direction to take in pursuit of the life he or she truly wants.

ASU senior biochemistry major Wills Register thought he already had his path figured out until new information presented in one of his upper-level classes got him thinking about an alternate route. Having decided in high school to become a medical doctor, he was intrigued by the possibility of instead becoming a physician-scientist after Dr. Shivraj Sohur, an ASU alumnus, made several presentations via Skype for Dr. Crosby Jones’ medical genetics class.

A 1992 ASU graduate, Sohur is a research scientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School Center for Nervous System Repair, a Harvard faculty member and a neurology resident at MGH.

“Dr. Sohur said he was ready to take on an intern at Harvard Medical School and in his lab at MGH over the summer,” Register said. “The purpose was to learn the lab techniques and what it is to be a physician-scientist because it is a different field than being a physician alone or just a research scientist.”

As a member of the Honors Program, Register was hand-picked by Jones to be the first student to participate in the new internship that was made possible through the Alvin and Patricia New Honors Program Enhancement Fund.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t really interested,” Register said, “because Dr. Sohur’s specialty is neurology, and that is not a main interest of mine. But over the winter break, Dr. Jones and I discussed what the internship would entail, including figuring out if I wanted to also pursue a Ph.D. instead of just an M.D. So, that was the turning point.”

During his internship, Register participated in several lab procedures, including labeling neurons in mice for particular growth factors and genetic expressions, sectioning the brains used for lab research and observing experiments by other lab assistants and post-doctoral fellows. But, it wasn’t all about research.

“I also got to shadow Dr. Sohur during most of his clinical hours,” Register said. “I was more interested in that part than the research side of it. But, that was the point of me going there, to see if I would be interested in also being a research scientist.”

Outside the lab and hospital, Register also got to experience a part of the country that is very different from his native West Texas.

“I had never been that far north, especially to the eastern seaboard,” he said. “It was great to be able to explore all the history that is associated with Boston. That was another really positive experience.”

Since completing his internship, Register has chosen to stick with his original plan of becoming a medical doctor. His primary interest is in surgery, and particularly orthopedic surgery, which he has some experience with after injuring both of his knees playing soccer in high school.

“We were playing in a club game and I planted by foot wrong in the mud, twisted that leg and tore my ACL,” Register said. “I had it repaired, and rehabbed for six months. When I came back, my very next game I tore the ACL in my other knee. It was a pretty trying time, but I recovered from that surgery and still like to play soccer.”

In addition to being an athlete, Register was also a top scholar at San Angelo Central High School and had the opportunity to attend much larger universities. But, the advantages offered by ASU were too good to pass up.

“One of the big draws for ASU was the Carr Scholarship Program,” Register said. “I was offered scholarships to other schools, but not to the extent that the Carr Scholarship covers tuition along with the Supplemental Scholarship from the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.”

“But equally as important,” he added, “was ASU’s high acceptance rate into medical school. That was known to me years before I even applied. That was a big influence on my coming to ASU because by my sophomore year in high school, I had pretty much decided I wanted to go to medical school.”

Register has applied to all the Texas medical schools and will know by February if he has been accepted. In the meantime, he continues his studies and other activities as a member of ASU’s chapters of the American Chemical Society, Tri-Beta biology honor society, Alpha Chi and Honors Student Association.